Usman Qadir just couldn"t get an international game. Until this series. Until today. This second T20I against Zimbabwe might be the occasion Qadir looks back on as the one that made him a serious spin option for the national team in short-format cricket.
There was a brief while where the possibility of him representing Australia wasn"t unrealistic. That soon petered out, and last year, seemingly out of nowhere, Misbah-ul-Haq named him to tour Australia. He didn"t get a game, though, and when Qadir was picked for the third T20I against Bangladesh in January, it was rained out - no toss, even. On that rain-soaked day, Qadir"s drought continued.
When Shadab Khan was ruled out of the ODI series against Zimbabwe because of an ankle injury, it looked like that would be the format Qadir would make his debut in. But Pakistan went with Imad Wasim as the spin frontman, and just the pacers for the final ODI. Finally, belatedly, when he was handed his Pakistan debut in the first T20I, figures of 3-0-24-1 barely caused any ripples.
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On Sunday, it began inauspiciously enough, when Wesley Madhevere pounced on a long hop to dispatch him to cow corner off his first ball. But that was the only time Qadir put a foot wrong all day.
He didn"t concede another run to Madhevere all over, and should have had the batsman lbw with a perfect googly that spun sharply to crash into his pads and, replays showed, would have hit leg stump flush. But the umpire remained unmoved and Pakistan didn"t review.
Qadir, however, seemed to have found the zone where his confidence and talent were in perfect harmony, and, over the next 18 balls, weaved a web Zimbabwe had no clue against.
Sikandar Raza lasted just two balls against him, hopelessly defeated in the flight as he charged the bowler, the googly knocking back his stumps. "That Sikandar Raza dismissal was my favourite moment," Qadir later told the PCB"s media channel. "He charged me and I bowled the wrong one that he missed and got bowled off it. I enjoyed myself a lot. This is international cricket, and only if you perform will you stay in the side. In T20 cricket, if you look aggressively for wickets, that helps you out a lot."
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That is precisely what Qadir did. Unafraid of tossing the ball up, of daring the batsmen to attack him, he found great balance between aggression and discipline. He bowled the googlies liberally, but didn"t overdo them. He continued to give the ball air, but was perfect with his line and length, so there weren"t many opportunities to hit him. And he wasn"t to be denied Madhevere"s wicket in the end, drawing him into a sweep the batsman failed to execute. It caught his pads once more, and this time, the umpire raised his finger.
Even when Elton Chigumbura seemed like he had got the measure of the legspinner, hitting through the line back over his head for six and swiping the next ball for four, Qadir was determined to have the last laugh. The final ball of his spell was a picture-perfect legspinner, tossed up enough to coax the batsman out of his crease, and spinning sharply enough to leave him stranded. It gave Mohammad Rizwan the easiest stumping and Qadir his third wicket - 4-0-23-3 he ended with.
"When I played the first match, I was a little nervous, as one can get before playing their first match. I was told I bowled well though and was backed by the team, just told not to repeat the mistakes I made during the first match," he said. "So I worked on them. The management and the captain gave me confidence during the second match so I felt I bowled with a lot more maturity today. I felt my googly was spinning, even though the legbreak wasn"t doing as much. I"ll continue this performance level in future hopefully."
It was a performance Shadab would have been proud of. Indeed, it might have left a certain Abdul Qadir beaming, too.